The Harp in the South

The Harp in the South is the debut novel by Australian author Ruth Park. Published in 1948, it portrays the life of a Catholic Irish Australian family living in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, which was at that time an inner city slum.

The Harp in the South
First UK edition (publ. Michael Joseph)
AuthorRuth Park
PublisherAngus & Robertson, Australia
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages229 pp
Preceded by 
Followed byPoor Man's Orange 


Hughie Darcy:
Married to Margaret Darcy. Hughie often becomes drunk after work and his best friend is Patrick Diamond, even though Patrick is Protestant and he is Catholic. Father of Rowena and Dolour. Hughie wants to get out of Surry Hills and back to the bush but he has a family to support so is trapped.
Margaret Darcy:
Mother of Rowena and Dolour, Mother-in-law of Charlie Rothe. She is a devout Catholic and although generally accepting, sometimes fights with Patrick Diamond (their lodger) over his religious beliefs.
Rowena "Roie" Darcy:
Married to Charlie Rothe, they have one child, Moira. In her youth, she was courted by Tommy Mendel, but after sleeping with her, he disappeared. Roie secretly worked at two jobs to save enough for an abortion when she discovers she is expecting Tommy's baby but at the last minute cannot go through with it. On her way home, she is attacked and savagely beaten by a group of sailors and loses the baby.
Charlie Rothe:
Charlie is assumed to be part aboriginal although he doesn't know his parents as he was taken away as a baby and put in a home. He is married to Rowena Darcy whom he met when her younger sister, Dolour took part in a radio quiz show, "Junior Information Please". Roie was feeling sick and he helped her outside for air. Charlie knew there was no racial prejudice with Roie but . Margaret did not accept him at first and Dolour was angry with him because he was stealing Roie from her.
Dolour Darcy:
Dolour is the youngest in her family. A very bright girl, she aspires to get a good education and escape from Surry Hills. She is aunty to "Motty" Roie's child and good friends with elderly Chinese greengrocer, Lick Jimmy.
Patrick Diamond:
Protestant. Every St.Patricks day, he will get drunk and abuse (verbally) Mrs. Darcy. When he suffered a stroke, Lick Jimmy performed an emergency 'bleed' by cutting open a vein to ease the pressure. Pat was unaware of this, as he had passed out because Hughie, also drunk, had hit him.
Miss Sheily:
Mother to disabled Johnny Sheily, she constantly abused him. When he was knocked down and killed she seemed relieved rather than upset. Later, Roie saw her flagellating herself and crying Johnny's name. She marries a Swedish man named Gunnarson.

Sequel and prequel

In 1949, Ruth Park published Poor Man's Orange as a sequel to The Harp in the South. A prequel, Missus, was published in 1985.


1949 stage adaptation

Park and Leslie Rees collaborated on a stage adaptation of The Harp in the South. It was first presented at the Independent Theatre in Sydney in March 1949.[1]

1964 British TV version

The Harp in the South
Directed byAlan Burke
Written byBruce Stewart
Distributed byBBC
Release date
10 July 1964
Running time
75 mins

The book was adapted for British TV in 1964. It was directed by an Australian, Alan Burke, with many Australians in the cast including Ed Devereaux.

Alan Burke had written a musical adaption of Harp in the South which has not been professionally produced.


  • Ed Devereaux as Hughie Darcy
  • Brenda Dunrich as Mumma Darcy
  • Bettina Dickson as Delie Stock
  • Veronica Lang as Roie Darcy
  • Andy Ho as Lick Jimmy
  • Muguette De Braie as Rosa Siciliano
  • George Roderick as Luigi Siciliano
  • Colette Martin as Dolour Darcy
  • Moya O'Sullivan as Miss Sheily
  • Bill Levis as Johnny Sheily
  • Kevin Brennan as Patrick Diamond
  • Lew Luton as Tommy Mendel

1986 and 1987 miniseries

Poor Man's Orange
Written byGeorge Whaley
Directed byGeorge Whaley
Country of originAustralia
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes2
Producer(s)Anthony Buckley
Original networkNetwork Ten
Original release14 September 1987

The Harp in the South and Poor Man's Orange were both adapted into TV miniseries, the former in 1986, the latter in 1987.[2]


Anne PhelanMumma Darcy
Martyn SandersonHughie Darcy
Anna HrubyRoie Darcy
Kaarin FairfaxDolour Darcy
Gwen PlumbGrandma Kilker
Syd ConaberePat Diamond
Melissa JafferMiss. Sheily
Shane ConnorCharlie Rothe
Brandon BurkeTommy Mendel
Ken RadleyJohnny Sheily
Lois RamsayMrs. Campion
Cecil ParkeeLick Jimmy
Carole SkinnerDelie Stock
Charles TingwellFather Cooley

2018 stage adaptation

Kate Mulvany adapted The Harp in the South, its prequel and sequel into a six hour play over two-parts. It was first produced by the Sydney Theatre Company at the Roslyn Packer Theatre from August 2018, directed by Kip Williams.[3][4]


  1. "MUSIC AND THE THEATRE". The Sunday Herald (Sydney) (6). New South Wales, Australia. 27 February 1949. p. 10. Retrieved 22 January 2019 via National Library of Australia.
  2. Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970-1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p229
  3. Tongue, Cassie (27 August 2018). "The Harp in the South review | Theatre in Sydney". Time Out Sydney. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  4. Dow, Steve (21 August 2018). "From Sydney slums to gay nuns: adapting Ruth Park's novels for the stage". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
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